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Post 3: "Slice of Life" from Placement

gcrossnoe's picture

I spend every Thursday afternoon at an after-school tutoring program at North Elementary School. I, along with other a few other college students, spend about an hour and a half with a group of 2nd and 3rd graders that have been identified by the school as students that need additional help with homework and reading. I was assigned one boy, Jason, and I work with him every week.

Jason is incredibly energetic, talkative, and bright. He has often finished his homework in class and asks me to create math problems on a small dry erase board for him to complete. He picks out books to read without complaint, and is able to read them aloud with an expected level of difficulty.

However, he does not like working at the computer. There is a reading program on the computer that each student is supposed to spend approximately 10 - 15 minutes on each afternoon, but Jason tries his best to get out of it. He haggles with me over the amount of time he is supposed to work, asking me if he can stop when the "big hand" on the clock is at a certain number. When we have agreed on a place where the "big hand" will indiciate he can quit the computer program, Jason often dawdles, speaks to other students, or asks to go to the restroom, hoping he can waste time.

One afternoon, after he finally started working on one of the activities on the computer, I lifted my hand for a high-five when he had completed one problem. After he solved the next problem, he raised both of his hands for a high ten. After the third problem, he said, in a sing-song voice, "When I say 'Awesome,' y'all say 'Yeah.' Awesome!" then he gave me a high-ten while I responded, "Yeah!"



He laughed, then proceeded to solve the next problem. He created another "When I say ___, y'all say ___" cheer, and I participated.

"You're good at making those up," I said after the third one.

"I can rap," he boasted, then proceeded to demonstrate. I couldn't catch all the words, but the gist seemed to be about telling an older brother that Jason was better than him. It wasn't a "nice" message, but it wasn't inappropriate. "I make up my own raps, too," he added. He stood up and began creating an impromptu rap about a dog fighting a cat. He extemporaneously added lines that ended with words that rhymed with "cat," and I let him rap until his was finished. I praised his ability, then suggested he get back to his computer program. He complied, and created another short chant after he solved a problem.

I realized that Jason was enjoying making up the chants, just as he enjoyed making up rap songs, so he began to answer questions on the computer very quickly. I suggested that he make up a chant after solving 3 questions, and he complied.

To me, it appeared that Jason was more willing to work at the computer if he was able to incorporate something he enjoyed -- making music and chants -- with the problems. He demonstrated a great ability for words and rhythm, and I believe he has great aptitude in what Howard Gardner would categorize as linguisitc and musical intelligence. After reading the Thomas Armstrong article about multiple intelligences, I wondered if whoever decided Jason needed extra after-school tutoring knew of his more artistic talent. Considering that in a traditional classroom, students are often expected to sit quietly, I had a suspicion that if Jason attempted to start rapping in his class, he would probably be reprimanded by his teacher.

In that moment on that day, however, I experienced similar constraints. After Jason and I had done a few chants, I began to feel self-conscious about how my fellow tutors were perceiving us. All the students and tutors were in the same classroom; some were working on homework, some were reading, and some were on the computers. Each student-tutor pair was staying relatively quiet, working diligently on their assignments. The cheers that Jason and I did when he completed his computer problems were loud, and I began to worry that the other tutors might think that I was being a poor authority figure. I worried that they might think I was being too lenient, that I shouldn't let Jason goof around, that he should be studying quietly. As a result, I found myself being less enthusaistic about his chants, hoping to perhaps tone him down.

Reexamining this incident reminds me of the hypothetical situations that Rachel Loeper presented to us during her explanation of Mighty Writers. One of the situations described a boy who loved to dance, and wanted to dance instead of sitting still in a chair. We were encouraged to come up with a way not to squelch his movement, but to use it in conjunction with his assignment. This method seems possible and praised at Mighty Writers, and probably in other progressive classrooms, but is seen as disorderly and wrong in a mainstream classroom. I realized that I have been so conditioned by my traditional education that I felt ashamed of letting Jason reward his good work with invented cheers. My fear of doing something that could be considered "wrong" by traditional definitions eventually caused me to dissuade Jason from using his multiple intelligences to make his work more enjoyable.